AMANDA NELL EU
International Award-Winning Film Director
Amanda fell in love with cinema and film when she was 13 years old. She spent her childhood visiting quaint second hand video stores, and was mesmerised by the black and white films of yore. 1920s German expressionism in particular blew her mind. She was especially drawn to horror films. “As an Asian kid, filmmaking wasn’t really considered a job. I studied graphic design, where I pretty much just used a camera the entire time. I then pursued my Masters in filmmaking. As soon as I got into it, I found that everything was coming full circle. I had finally found my place – this was me taking something I loved as a kid, and turning it into a career an entire decade later,” she laughed.
Amanda’s talent was soon discovered, and her short film Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu was featured in the Venice Film Festival, an impressive accolade for any up-and-coming filmmaker. The title is based off a Malay proverb, which means that it is easier to raise a herd of cows than one daughter. The film is about how two teenage girls who become best friends, and one of them is a pontianak (female vampire). “I’ve been questioned a lot about this, on whether I intended it to be feminist. I suppose it is. I just love the notion of what we fear in a woman – this raw, untapped feminine rage, and I’ve translated it into a horror character. The pontianak has gone through a lot of pain to be who she is, but she has this undeniable beauty about her. To me, every woman is like a pontianak. We may be gentle and demure on the outside, but cross us once and you’ll face our wrath! People fear what they don’t understand, this power and strength that women have. That’s why we women have been oppressed and quashed for centuries – they fear our feminine power, and who and what we can become. All my films are exploring this deeper and deeper now.” she revealed.
Her current projects include her debut feature film and one or two short films in between. “Feature films take an average of three to five years to make, from beginning to end. But as a director, I’m starting to feel that five-year itch, so I’m working on some shorts as well. Shorts take only about three days to shoot and a few months to prep. But my main focus is still the feature film. It’s going to be in the horror genre of course!” she laughed.
When asked about her favourite films, Amanda claims she has many, but they don’t dictate her personal style. Amongst her favourites are Abas Kiarostami (from Iran), Ozu (a Japanese filmmaker known for his contemporary post-war films in the ‘50s and ‘60s), David Lynch (for his wonderfully weird style), Lynne Ramsay, and Joanna Hog (female film directors from the UK). “Horror was my first love, but at one point in film school, I wanted to do more art house stuff. It took me a while to get back into this old favourite, and I’m using it now to tell a meaningful story. I’ve stopped watching horror films myself because they’re all pretty much jump scares and loud music now. There’s nothing complex about it, no underlying social or political message. I want to bring important issues to light, and have a blast while I’m at it. Genre can be used to reach a wider audience. So that’s currently my obsession, but obviously as an artist, I’m always going to be evolving, changing and improving.”
Having lived in London for a considerable amount of time, Amanda prefers the film scene in Malaysia and South East Asia, although the European film industry is already well established. “I just fell into it by accident, and found that I loved it because of the community. There’s a small community of independent filmmakers here in Malaysia and we’re all very close. I feel like I have a place and family here. It’s also more difficult to be heard in London because the industry there is massive and highly competitive,” she pointed out. She used to be bullied on set, not for being a woman, but for being young. “They underestimated me, but it’s fine because I know my stuff. Every industry is going to have its share of bullies. You just have to stand your ground, and work with people who do respect you. You also have to know who you are and what you stand for. The proof is in your work. Don’t compromise your work and integrity, and your work will speak for itself.”
Procuring financing for films is incredibly difficult, as the film industry is a risky one, so Amanda writes scripts freelance, but not the kind that she’d direct herself. She doesn’t believe in compromising her story and identity. “In art, you have to be as honest as possible. You may deal with a lot of rejection, but just keep going. Don’t be afraid to take charge. As a director, you are expected to take charge in everything. So just believe in yourself, and be as honest as you can with your storytelling.”